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Preview: ‘Trailblazers’ adds a touch of ‘Overwatch’ to racing genre

BY GIESON CACHO | THE MERCURY NEWS (TNS)

Platform: PC, Xbox One, Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch
Style: Co-operative arcade racing
Developer: Supergonk
Publisher: Rising Star Games
Rating: E, for everyone

Supergonk Founder Ben Ward is passionate about racing games, but he sees a genre that needs to evolve. He points to the evolution of first-person shooters and says they’ve gone from raw fragfests like “Doom” and branched out to elegant team-based projects such as “Overwatch.”

On the other hand, racing titles have been going in circles. That doesn’t mean the genre hasn’t made strides, but the pace of change has slowed since “Gran Turismo” and “Mario Kart.” That’s where Ward comes in with “Trailblazers.”

The indie developer has a background with racing games, having worked on the “Project Gotham Racing” franchise. Those games introduced the Kudos system and other elements to breathe life into the category. With “Trailblazers,” he intends to do the same thing by introducing a new “Splatoon“-like mechanic to the genre.

“Trailblazers” is an arcade racer in the vein of “Mario Kart” but it pushes teamwork over individual performance. That’s done with a paint mechanic. As players drive around the track, they cover the course with their colors. If they or a teammate follow the colors, their speed is boosted. The longer they stay on the paint, the faster their car goes.

However, if players veer off the colored path or a rival team paints over it, they lose the boost. This creates a dynamic in which players have to coordinate and talk to each as they wheel around corners. They have to pick a line and try to preserve it while telling their teammates where they are going along a course’s branching paths.

Interestingly enough, an opponent’s paint won’t slow down a rival. Players can shoot a stream of paint forward to slow a competitor or even spin them out, but other than that ability, there are no weapons or other customizations. Ward said he purposely made the game simple and accessible.

His small team tested out concepts such as customizable vehicles, short cuts and paint widths, but he wanted a title laser-focused on a core mechanic. All players have are 10 base tracks with variations that raise the total to 40. They can choose from eight different characters who each have their own stats based on trails, boosting and handling. The stats make each character unique and players will have to create teams where each drivers’ abilities complement each other.

A strong driver who can lay down a long color path before running out of paint and having to recharge would be a perfect partner for a character who doesn’t lay down a lot of paint but has a fast boost.

Players will get to know “Trailblazers’” eight character through a single-player campaign that follows Jetstream, which Ward calls his version of “Street Fighter II’s” Ryu, a character who is average at everything and is a good way to figure out the mechanics. They’ll learn that they can shoot paint in front of them, but that move doesn’t use paint efficiently as laying it down behind them. They’ll also discover paint gates, which roll out a strip of color when players drive through them.

For the multiplayer mode, Supergonk added a four-player split-screen mode, so that players can enjoy couch co-op. They can even have mixed teams with those playing online.

They can compete in Team Racing, which is a 3 vs. 3 matchup. There’s a time trial to see, which team can race across the track fastest. A Partner Battle pits three duos against each other (that’s 2v2v2). All vs. all is basically a race where everyone is out for themselves. Lastly, Gate Chase is a mode where players can’t paint the course, but they can still color a track and get that boost by driving through paint gates.

Additionally, the races aren’t scored traditionally. Being first doesn’t necessarily win the race. “Trailblazers” employs a Kudos-like scoring system, where the finish is taken into account, but it isn’t the be-all and end-all of a competition. What players do over the course of the contest matters. Covering the track in team paint helps while making rivals spinout counts for something. At the end of the race, that’s tallied up along with first, second, third place, etc. into the total score for a team or player.

“Trailblazers” is a concept that will take some time to adjust to, but the game has an indie vibe similar to that of “Rocket League.” It’s a driving game that dares to do something different. In this case, Ward wants to create a more team-focused racing game, and “Trailblazers” nudges players in that direction by encouraging them to talk to each other.

Players need to communicate with each other, alerting allies where they’re going so they can essentially draft behind a lead players and fire up a boost. With courses that have multiple paths and competitors who can spin allies out, it’s important for teammates to stick together as they learn new ways to win. Look for “Trailblazers” to come out in May on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC, Mac and Linux.

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